which path to control drinking

And not as a damn New Year's resolution.


As I drove to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Morning Mr. Magpie played on the car radio. The song begins "You've got some nerve, coming here," and before I had even arrived, I was already spooked to my boots. Wait, let me stop you there. You're one of those people who connects a song playing on the radio to your life as some some sort of sign? A sign from who? God? Well uhm, I dunno.

The song continues, "Good Morning, Mr. Magpie. How are we today?" My mind started guessing at images of Alcoholics Anonymous as some pseudo Fight Club. "Hey I'm Robert Paulsen, and I'm an alcoholic." Eerily enough when I finally got to the meeting, the crowd of faces were frighteningly similar to that of my Hollywood imagination. Mostly men, rugged, 20's - 60's, somewhere in the middle of that range. Sure, there were outliers, the woman with a crying baby in her lap for one.

Running 5 minutes late because my friend had spontaneously taken me at the last second, my options for seating were rather limited, so I plopped down in the very first available chair I saw. The two people on either side of me seemed to look up in surprise, but I avoided making eye contact in an effort to seem like I belonged. Only a few seconds after sitting down, I realized I was sitting next to a deranged (and likely homeless from the look of her baggy and tattered jacket) woman who reeked of booze. She mumbled to herself repeatedly and stared at me from the corner of her eye.

I quickly pulled my phone from my jacket and turned it off even quicker, not wanting to seem like I was using it, then I directed my attention to the youngish man at the front reading from one of those black and white notepads you had in elementary school. He sat slumped in his chair and read in a monotone and depressed voice his history of abuse. He said he had started his drug abuse with LSD, but then moved onto his time in jail and living on the streets in which nothing mattered but the next fix. Frequently he would stop to pause and gather his thoughts. His story was disconnected but you could tell he was mostly "there." His concern seemed to be getting his point across, not revealing every last detail.

While he continued, I scanned the room and tried to take in my surroundings. The room was meager but felt real. There was scattered artwork on the wall. Quotes about God. When I met my friend downtown afterwards, I told him it felt far more spiritual than any church I had ever been to. These were real people with real pain and real suffering. Back to Radiohead, "You've got some nerve coming here." No matter my rather extensive history of abuse, some part of me did not feel like I belonged here. I was too clean, too young, too lucky to have never had life altering consequences. Or was I lying to myself?

Once he finished speaking, the floor was open to everyone else. Another younger man I had been paying attention to because of his erratic gestures started talking about what a bad place he was in. He said he was afraid he was going to use. He had nowhere to stay. His mannerisms were bizarre but his appearance was oddly pristine. As terrible as I knew it was, I couldn't help but be suspicious and think of Marla Singer--someone looking to take advantage of the weak. Several others redirected attention to the main speaker's story again and their own similar experiences. Another young, well put together girl started talking about how she was finally learning to be a receiver as well as a giver. Sure why not, she'd selflessly take a 3 week paid vacation in Miami by a sponsor. She continued talking, talking, talking longer and I couldn't help but grow petty again, wanting to throw a tomato at her narcissistic face. I highly doubted anyone would be willing to give the mentally ill woman beside me a trip to Miami.

But then it would be my turn. Another man started talking about how his friends had been T-Boned in a car accident earlier in the day, both killed. As he talked, a phone started ringing. My phone? Surely not. I stumbled my hands around my jacket not wanting to believe my ears. YES, my phone. "Are you sure you want to turn your phone off, YES or NO, because if you don't answer this security question, you might later be interrupting a person's story of death with one of the most obnoxiously superficial devices created by man, better not FUCK UP!" My insides turned to fire. Mortified is not the word. There is no word. The meeting ended with everyone holding hands and saying the Serenity Prayer. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I ended up holding hands with the man who had lost his friends in the accident. Once the meeting finally broke, I immediately introduced myself to the gentleman, shook his hand, and apologized immensely while offering my condolences. He seemed to have hardly noticed the phone incident and was genuinely thankful for my apology. I instantly felt better.

It seemed like before the meeting had started, it was already over. I was slightly baffled at the process of the whole thing. Several individuals had been openly venting terrible grievances and pleading for help, but the meeting seemed to skip over them like nothing had even happened. AA apparently does not encourage any cross talk in these sessions. Surely these people would be approached later, but the whole abruptness to how everything wrapped up seemed to be an added blow to these individuals' heart felt stories. To add to the surreal nature of things, when the proctor was giving out sobriety chips, the deranged woman next to me smelling of alcohol took the biggest chip - 1 year and 2 months.

My friend who took me to the meeting introduced me to a few people and then we had to go our separate ways quickly after. Driving away from the meeting, my first instinct was "Jesus, I need a drink." This is not intended to be a sarcastic joke. This was how I actually felt. By drinking, I could possibly distance myself from everything I had just been witness to. Yes I have a problem. But I had never slept on the street. I had never spent my children's money on booze. Plain and simple, I had yet ruin my life. But to understand how I had come to this point in the first place, going to this meeting in the first place, you will also have to know my mind's monologue had far surpassed that previous, superficial loop.

I know I have an addictive personality. I'd hesitate to call myself an alcoholic, but I know I probably am one. I'd prefer drug addict. Alcohol is not the first thing I think of in the morning. Alcohol is not the first thing I think of at night. But have I had enough alcohol in one night to ruin my life? Several times. Have I spent years abusing not just alcohol but numerous, numerous other substances? Yes. The reason I came to this meeting was because of one of the most critical distinctions AA makes in their very first step: admitting powerlessness. Did I know much if anything about AA? Not really, but I knew it would be about people and that was enough. I was curious. And by going to a meeting like AA, even if I didn't know if it was for me, I was taking another important step in further acknowledging a very real problem.

"You should take the 30 day challenge, and then after the 30 day challenge, you can take the 60 day challenge, and then after the 60 days." And then a shit eating grin came across my face because I had understood this logic long ago. I've tried to quit a certain substance before and after a few weeks, while the cravings start to go away gradually, out of nowhere BLAMMO, you'll get another one out of the fucking clouds. That's when I first realized, aw shit, this is going to be for the rest of my life. Quitting one substance was never an option. Even if I'm fortunate enough to get my problem under control, how do I know I won't face some horrible setback that pushes me back there again? If I lost MY close friend in an accident, I know the first place I'd head. Selfish? Sure. Sometimes the truth hurts. But what's important here again is a distinction. All it takes is one event. All it takes is one beer. Sure you can be moderate for months, years. All it takes is one night.

Just maybe, maybe, I've had my one night already..

to be cont'd

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